Why I like Linode (after using others)

When I started hosting websites for clients, I hosted them in-house, literally, in my house. This was nice because I had direct control over the servers and could quickly fix them or migrate data if there were hardware failures. But obviously, it does not scale very well when it comes to bandwidth, and if you need many servers, the power and cooling requirements can get out of hand.

GoDaddy

At the point when I felt my home setup was “obsolete”, I then took the plunge onto GoDaddy dedicated servers, 2 of them at the time. One was for websites and ran Windows 2003 Server with IIS. The other was a mail server and each had DNS running on them so I didn’t have to depend on/pay for a third-party DNS provider.

GoDaddy dedicated servers ended up being the biggest mistake I ever made.  They ran well for a while, but then a worm of some kind crawled around their internal network and came in through some backend they use to manage the servers.  I had everything well locked down, all Windows sharing turned off, including unneeded admin shares (C$, etc.) and had the firewall pretty tight. It took around 3 days to recover fully from the crash and even though the machines were virtually “destroyed”, I was fortunately able to FTP out all my customer data.

Crystaltech

I moved most of my ASP & .NET sites over to a Windows 2008 Server at CrystalTech. Including email (SmarterMail), which I love, but with the limited space on a Windows VPS, it is quickly filling up with email (people rarely delete things when using IMAP). I still use Crystaltech and they’ve been very stable, but their cost is quite a bit higher than other virtual solutions.

Slicehost

After the GoDaddy crash, all my PHP sites moved to virtual servers running Ubuntu with a standard LAMP stack. Apache got old real quick. It required constant tuning.  I explored many web servers to find one with better performance, at one time, I had three setup for ALL my virtualhosts where all I had to do was stop all the web daemons, change the config of the one I wanted to use to 80 and just start that one, bring up all my sites on a different daemon.  I finally settled on Cherokee and have NEVER looked back.

Slicehost, in my opinion, had HUGE potential at one time (pre-Rackspace buyout).  The support was phenomenal, everyone in the company was open and reachable. I many times talked to the founder via chat and email.  But all of that went down the drain with Rackspace and all Slicehost’s offerings and prices went stagnant.

I recently cancelled Slicehost completely after getting a hard to access domain, whose DNS was hosted with Slicehost, to change their nameservers to Linode’s.

Others

I’ve used a number of other minor providers from time to time that I won’t get too much into here. None of them seemed to be as “turnkey” as places like Linode and Slicehost when it came to the admin backend experience. They were either too complicated or did not even have some of the basics required for “full service” hosting.

Linode

Linode, so far (knock on wood), has been the best company I’ve ever done business with. Rock solid, great support at all hours, fast host servers, lots of datacenter locations, excellent control panel, iPhone app, etc. I can’t say enough to express my happiness with the service.

I currently host a number of VPS servers with them and have brought over a few clients onto their own server(s).  We host everything from test servers to full production and even PBXs. All runs perfectly.

It will be a sad day in VPS hosting land if Linode ever gets bought out by some mega hosting company like Rackspace.

To end this up, decentralization has been the best thing I have done and it is multi-faceted. I separated websites onto multiple, less expensive virtual servers, which prevent ALL my sites from going down when something happens to one of them. I’ve moved most of my clients to Google Apps for Domains, both business and standard, for email.

My uptime has dramatically improved, my customers are happier and that’s what matters.

Moving away from Windows & IIS (ASP) to Linux @ SliceHost

I have, for years, been developing web apps and so on using ASP (Classic) on IIS.  It’s a “fine” platform, but I have, over time, become weary of the Microsoft bloat that accompanies running a Windows Server… Especially in a colo/dedicated/VPS environment.

Over the last few months, since my major GoDaddy Windows Dedicated servers got hit by a worm or something, I’ve seriously started learning PHP with MySQL.  I used MySQL quite a bit with ASP and am quite familiar with it, but PHP experience was rather limited.  In the last few weeks, I’ve written a few things and ported a customer’s website over from an ASP CMS I wrote to PHP (still need to finish the CMS in PHP).  The site runs so much faster and I am now able to host it on my new Slice VPS that I setup earlier this month.  In 15 minutes or so, I can have an entire new Slice setup with Apache or Lighttpd and PHP/MySQL and, with a little tweaking and securing, have a server up and serving sites.   Can’t do that with Windows that quickly.

Slice is still running strong and I’m going to do my best to get ALL my ASP sites “ported” over to PHP over the next few months.  I’ve been using ASP/PHP cross reference sites like Design 215 and a few others and have been able to do things very quickly.  The database part was the only part I really needed to find good samples  for, but they aren’t even too hard once you use them a few times.

SliceHost has inspired me to really learn Linux and abandon the Microsoft OS, but there is still one caveat to Linux that I am very disappointed with.  There is not a single (that I’ve found), reasonably priced, multi-domain, domain level administratable email server with a nice webmail interface for users and administrative functions.

I know there are a ton of “pieces” that I can put together to get something like that, like Postfix, EXIM4, Dovecat, etc., but I just simply don’t have the time to wade through the massive pile of config files to get all those pieces working together in a nice secure and highly reliable fashion.

So, I am going to continue moving all my websites over to Linux/Apache/Lighttpd/PHP/MySQL and keep a small (30gb, 768mb RAM) Windows Virtual Dedicated server running with SmarterMail 5.x mail server on it. SmarterMail is probably one of the BEST email servers for a web hosting environment.  It is a snap to setup, backup and move to a new server if needed (Trust me, I know!). I already own an Enterprise license and am just waiting for one last very important domain to move off a temporary dedicated server before I move it to a new Windows VPS to serve the remainder of my customer’s email needs.  SliceHost isn’t a fully “managed” solution, but with the Slice Backup capability, you can have daily and weekly images made and restore to them quickly at anytime in case anything happens…

Mosso is good and is finally rectifying the Compute Cycle issue I mentioned previously,  I may keep them if I can break even with the few sites I still host on there, but their servers aren’t nearly as responsive as a VPS or Dedicated server probably due to the massively clustered setup they run.  I don’t really need individual site scalability… If a site has high requirements, I’ll just stick them on a new slice and charge the customer accordingly.  Most of my sites that would need to scale are WordPress Blogs and could easily handle being Digg’ed etc, by installing WP-Supercache.

Ultimately I plan on hosting all websites and blogs on Ubuntu 8.04 @ SliceHost and email on a Windows VPS @ GoDaddy (for now) until I find a Windows VPS provider as excellent as SliceHost is (hint hint to SliceHost)…

That’s all for now…

If anyone knows of any turn-key type mail servers that are free/inexpensive (< $500) for Linux please leave a comment.